(294) Rhopocichla atriceps atriceps Jerdon.
THE NILGIRI BLACK-FRONTED BABBLER.
Rhopocichla atriceps atriceps, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. i, p. 281.
The Black-fronted Babbler is found in the Nilgiris and other hill-ranges of South-West India but not in Travancore.
Generally speaking this little Babbler is an inhabitant of any sort of forest or jungle with sufficient undergrowth, and is found from the level of the plains up to practically the top of the hills wherever there is forest. Sometimes, however, it breeds in thick bamboo-jungle, more especially if this has an undergrowth of grass and bushes. In Kanara it nests more often in scrub-jungle than in forest, and a small series of eggs taken by Mr. T. R. Bell were forwarded to me with the following note :—“This Babbler makes a completely domed nest, oval in shape and rough and loosely put together. The materials are all blades of grass and reeds with a lining of softer bits of the same. They are placed generally in low bushes in scrub jungle, seldom more than five feet from the ground.”
Again, Davidson (Journ. Bomb. Nat. Hist. Soc. vol. xii, p. 657, 1899) says :—“It seems to spend most of its time building unnecessary nests. They are thick untidy masses of bamboo leaves with an entrance on one side, and are placed at all heights from two feet to about ten or twelve. The bird is very partial to bamboo jungle, and most of the nests found were in bamboos.”
In the Nilgiris, Wait, as quoted by Hume, says :—“ It builds in weeds and grass beside the banks of old roads, at elevations of from 5,000 to 5,500 feet. The nest is placed at a height from a foot to 2 feet from the ground, is domed and loosely built, composed almost entirely of the dried blades of the lemon grass, and lined with the same or a few softer grass-bladea. In shape it is more or less ovate, the longer axis vertical, and the external diameters
4 and 8 inches.”
Miss Cockburn found one nest “amongst reeds on the edge of a stream, about 2 or 3 feet above the water’s edge.”
The curious habit of this species of breeding in company is alluded to by Bates in his charming account of their breeding in Mercana (Journ. Bomb. Nat. Hist. Soc. vol. xxxi, p. 293, 1926):— “ I feel inclined to accuse these birds of nesting in colonies. In Mercana I don’t think I ever came across less than two nests together and on two occasions I struck seven within a few yards of one another. Both of these batches were in steep wide ditches practically concealed by undergrowth and creepers and running through coffee plantations. Once in the ditch one could walk down the centre quite comfortably. The nests faced into the centre of the ditch, being anchored as a rule in hanging strands of creeper at about six feet from the ground. They were in a row at an almost even interval of about six or seven yards. Two of the nests were still being used as sleeping compartments.”
The usual breeding season is May, June and July but there are few months in which a nest with eggs may not be found. Davidson took nests with eggs in March, August and December as well as in the months mentioned, and I have also a clutch in my collection taken in February.
Wait says that in the Nilgiris they lay two or three eggs but I have never seen more than two or heard of anyone else except Wait who has seen three.
The eggs are pure white speckled or spotted with brownish- red, the spots very slightly more numerous at the larger end than elsewhere. Variation is exceptionally slight in the eggs of this species and the only eggs I have seen calling for remark are a pair of very small eggs very lightly freckled all over with pale pink and another which has quite large brownish-chocolate blotches at the larger end, in one egg forming an indefinite cap and in the other an equally indefinite ring at the extremity of the larger ends.
A few eggs have a very faint tinge of grey in the ground-colour, only discernible when placed alongside china-white eggs.
In shape the eggs are rather long blunt ovals.
Twenty-four eggs average 19.3 x 13.8 mm. : maxima 20.9 x 15.0 mm. ; minima 18.0 x 12.3 mm.
The bird is said to sit close, only slipping quietly off the nest, into the scrub round about it, when the intruder is within a few feet of the nest.
294. Rhopociehia atriceps atriceps
(294) Rhopocichla atriceps atriceps Jerdon.